Chamber calls for funding shake-up

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Cornwall’s fastest-growing business organisation has today called for a complete review of how tens of millions of pounds are spent in the name of business growth in Cornwall.

Cornwall Chamber of Commerce & Industry has canvassed the views of some of the region’s leading businesses. Firstly to assess the success of existing support and secondly to consider how to provide support in future.

The results are published in a report titled “Could Convergence Business Support do more for our best companies?” Launching the document this morning at the Cornwall Business Fair on Lemon Quay in Truro, Chamber chief executive Richard Glover acknowledged that it was tough to find the right balance.

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“It is fantastic that the South West Regional Development Agency (SWRDA) and its partners see investment in business growth as a priority,” he said. “Some of the initiatives developed are proving very useful to many companies. However, our research suggests that overall the investment is not having the impact that either funders or businesses need.”

According to the Chamber, many businesses feel that money is being spent unnecessarily. The report points to a lack of coordination, a proliferation of advisor posts funded from the public purse, unrealistic targets, ill-informed consultants and a patchy service to businesses.

Of most concern, is the sense that businesses in Cornwall are actually being squeezed out by the services offered by the taxpayer.

Glover explained: “Of most concern to us is the feeling that, far from encouraging the private sector, these investments are displacing it. With so much apparently free business support available and so many ‘free’ seminars, workshops and networking events it is increasingly difficult to see a way of sustaining some markets in these areas once funding ceases.”

Currently certain types of business can access support for all kinds of activity including export, recruitment, management consultancy, marketing, collaboration, improving skills, and mentoring. This support is channelled via a series of pre-selected providers, which, says the Chamber, creates a series of organisations with competing messages.

The report recommends a completely different way of approaching business support. Rather than the creation of “semi-quangos”, as the Chamber says is the case at present, it calls for a recognition that the businesses concerned are best-placed to choose the support they need.

“Convergence funding is meant to help our economy move from a reliance on tax-payer handouts to a point where we can stand on our own,” Glover added. “The only way to achieve that is to involve the private sector at all levels. If we are to achieve value and a sustainable set of services then we need to take a different approach. Our members – and many non-members – feel that millions of pounds are being wasted at the moment. Now is the time to get more value from the significant investment available.”